Transport in Panama: Tips for Traveling Around Safely

How safe is public transport in Panama? First, let's take a look at why the diabolical Diablos Rojos were taken off the streets, and then we'll look at the safest modes of transport for travel.


Interior view of a bus traveling to Boca del Drago on Isla Colon in Bocas del Toro, Panama Photo © iStock/Joel Carillet

Why Panama got rid of the diabolical diablos rojos

Diablos Rojos were colorful former US school buses, which were once seen all over the streets of Panama. Once the principal mode of local transport, costing a measly 25c for a one way fare, they were taken off the streets after a lack of maintenance, horrific traffic accidents, and security concerns became too much to handle. 

In 2010 a new government regulated public bus system, Metro Bus was introduced. With modern air-conditioning and a Metro Card system, the new and improved transportation is far more safe and comfortable. The old Diablos Rojos can still be seen here and there, but it's advised you catch the Metro Bus to ensure your own safety.

Transport crime in Panama

Bus stations tend to be high crime areas, but you should also be aware that Tocumen International Airport in Panama city is the only airport in Panama that maintains international airport security measures. Local domestic air carriers have low safety and security standards, and are best avoided.

For your own safety, only use registered taxis, and where possible call a taxi rather than hail one off the street. Do not share taxis with strangers, and always sit in the back seat.

6 other things to know before you go to Panama

1. Drug trafficking

Be aware of the increase in gang violence in Panama. Drug trafficking throughout Panama is fuelling an increase in youth gangs, which are more often than not directly related to drugs in some manner.

2. Carry identification

Many Latin Americans are trying to emigrate to Panama, so you'll notice policeman sometimes stop travelers and ask them for their ID. You don't have to carry your passport, but to avoid problems you should carry a photocopy of the photo page of your passport, and the page where your entry date is stamped.

Panama law also requires that you carry identification documentation at all times.

3. Parental guidance

If children are traveling with one parent only, Panama requires a notarized letter of permission from the other parent.

4. Compulsory vehicle insurance

Vehicle insurance (including third party) is compulsory in Panama, but many locals drive without it. If you're involved in a car accident, Panama law requires you to wait with the vehicle until the traffic police arrive.

5. LGBTQ+ safety

Although homosexual acts are not illegal, discretion is highly recommended, since homosexuality is not socially acceptable in all areas.

6. Photography isn't always appreciated

It's illegal to photograph official buildings in Panama. You should check with local authorities before taking photos. Taking photographs, particularly of children and women, may be met with suspicion and violence. Permission from an adult should be obtained before taking photographs of, or talking to, children.

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